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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Roussel

Star Trek's Q

Q is both a character and the name of a fictional race in Star Trek. He's the embodiment of Authur C. Clark's Third Law and is embodies an issue that often pops up in science fiction.

Arthur C. Clark's Third Law states:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Star Trek #35

 Profiles of the Future (revised edition 1973)

In Star Trek, Q is basically a god. The most well-known Q in the Star Trek series is played by John de Lancie. He's an extra-dimensional being who has complete control over time and space. As well as the laws of physics and reality. Think Thanos with all the Soul Gems.

The Q race lives outside of time and space with abilities to manipulate the universe on a seemingly quantum level.

This is different from the god complex we looked at in the Light Yagami post. Q doesn't have a god complex - he is a god. This seems like a fantasy trope, but it's still well within the bounds of science fiction.

We can happily accept this argument in science fiction as can accept that sometimes things are so unknowable, so currently beyond our comprehension, it can seem god-like. After all, for 95% of human existence, we've been primate hunter-gatherers. It's not a big stretch to imagine that at this time, some other species in a distant galaxy spent more time evolving and less time killing one another.

Q is a creature outside of time and space with abilities to manipulate the universe on a quantum level.

With a snap of his fingers

Science is a way of talking about the universe in words that bind it to a common reality. Magic is a method of talking to the universe in words that it cannot ignore. The two are rarely compatible.

Neil Gaiman, The Book of Magic

Perhaps something I never realized until I started looking into it is how many Star Trek fans disliked the character. Though everyone has to agree that the actor John de Lancie steals any scene he's in.

Guinan stabbing Q (he had it coming)

The fact is, Q's ability to snap his fingers and change the world can often be uncomfortable. It makes the struggles and efforts of the main characters seem almost irrelevant if it could all be done or undone by a mad god.

Star Trek is fundamentally science-driven. This isn't necessarily the case with everything we consider sci-fi.

The best example would be Star Wars and the Force. The Force (as it's presented in the original three movies) is a mystical power, rather than a scientific one. Even with the attempt in The Phantom Menace to the midichlorians.

This is where science fiction and the rest of speculative fiction often diverge. Because that threat and concept are more acceptable in the fantasy and horror worlds.

Science versus belief

This is a classic stomping ground for the science fiction genre - science versus religion, or belief without foundation in general. And it's not always a battle to be won or lost. Character or even entire plotlines often revolve around this clash.

Off the top of my head, we see this in Avengers with the Asgardian race, Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series, Grimm, Doctor Strange and the Fullmetal Alchemist. The latest incarnation of Star Trek, Star Trek Discovery, revisits this concept in the second series. With the overarching plot of Red Angel, we see Captain Pike and Michael Burnham push and pull over the central issue; supernatural beings or highly advanced technology? Though, unlike Star Wars, Star Trek will always have a resolution weighted towards science.

Tina: An electrical current just travelled from your neural pathways into the staff and made that happen.  Nico: Explain it however you want, but it needed my blood and it read my mind. It's just like Wicca.  Tina: It's science, Nico.  Nico: If by "science", you mean high-tech magic, then sure.


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